Community pharmacies face pandemic-related costs of ‘£400m and rising’, says negotiator

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of the spring Budget for 2021, setting out the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to pharmacies
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Community pharmacies have incurred additional costs of more than £400m “and rising” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacy negotiators have said.

In a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak, sent ahead of the spring Budget for 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said pharmacies spent the money on “dispensing over one billion prescriptions and providing millions of patient consultations”.

The letter added that a fifth of patient consultations occurred because patients “could not access other healthcare services or were referred on from them, and almost half would have otherwise had to access hard-pressed GP services”.

In 2020, the government loaned community pharmacies £370m to cover pandemic-related cash flow issues, which the PSNC has since called to be written off.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, said in the letter that pharmacies are “at risk of closure” if they are forced to repay the loans, adding that these closures would come “at a time when the NHS is increasingly reliant on [pharmacies] to deliver COVID-19 vaccination services both now and in the booster campaign expected this winter”.

“These closures will also worsen the health inequalities that COVID-19 has exposed,” the letter continued.

This comes as data published by NHS Digital on 26 February 2021 continue to show that community pharmacies are closing at a faster rate than in previous years.

In the 12 months to February 2021, 247 pharmacies in England closed on a net basis, compared with 122 closures in the 12 months to February 2020.

A previous investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than four times as many pharmacies closed in the most deprived areas of England when compared with the number of closures in the country’s most affluent areas.

This is despite comments from the prime minister in February 2021, saying that he did not want to see any pharmacies close and that their additional costs during the COVID-19 pandemic should be reimbursed “as soon as possible”.

Commenting on the letter, Dukes said: “As we have said before, community pharmacy contractors must have their costs fully covered and they must not be asked to subsidise the NHS.

“We urge the chancellor to stand by his promise to give the NHS whatever resources it needs to deal with the pandemic, and to confirm in today’s Budget that he will do so for pharmacies.

“Pharmacies cannot afford to pay back their COVID-19 emergency loans and the chancellor must now intervene to ensure that they are not asked to do so.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2021, Vol 306, No 7947;306(7947)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.61194

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